By: Jodie (c2020), Photo By: Jodie (c2020)


The sign on the door reads,

“Mindfulness Course.”

My preceptor waves goodbye.

I walk inside.


One, two, three, four – four participants and a bearded therapist.

I know their backstories, these four strangers.

I begin to try matching files to faces.

Before I can complete my task, the request comes-

“Close your eyes. Focus on the breath.”


In… Out…

In… Out…

Cool… Warm…

Nostril… Tongue…

Chest Falling,

Abdomen Filling,

Noise Humming- Noise humming?

What is that noise I hear?

I cannot turn my ears off; they betray my mindful intent.

My thoughts are drawn out into the room,

In search of the noisy culprit.

Huummmm – Whoosh. Huummmm – Whoosh.

“What makes this jaunting sound?” I wonder,

Soft purring, punctuated with satisfying bursts of air-


Woops, I notice my distraction.

“Come on mind,” I tug it back to being.

Moments pass, Solitude, Solitude…


We wake up.

Back to solving my mystery.

Scanning the faces of my companions,

Seeking the source of the humming,

I find it.

I find her.

Black box, whirring, spurting,

Sitting beside her feet.

Long tube, clear plastic,

Slinking up across her lap,

Wrapping gently behind her ears,

And coming to rest just beneath her nose.

It sends oxygen whooshing into her nares.

Huummmm – Whoosh.


Now, who is the woman behind the machine?

One, two, three, four – She must be Stage 4.

I remember the file now.

Her pale skin and hollow cheeks tell the story.

Her bright eyes and astute words tell another:


“In some ways I’m ready to die,” she offers,

“And in some ways I’m not.

Because I know that things will carry on without me.”

“Like this course,” her friend chimes in.

“We’ll be here every Monday.”

“Yes,” she laughs, “Even after I’m dead.”

“Actually,” she interjects, “I’ll be here either way.”


A hand reaches out to wrap around,

Her long and boney fingers.

The hand belongs to a young woman,

Rosy face shaded beneath a ball cap.

As she turns her head towards mine,

My breath and eyes both catch-

As the pink ribbon tacked on to her white hat,

Comes starkly into view.

Could this be, number two?

The second stage 4 participant?

My mind wrestles to reconcile the record with her youth.


“I am ready too, but he is not,” she points across the table.

Stoic man, downcast eyes, participant #3.

A backstage figure begrudgingly yanked into the spotlight.



A duo desperate to heal each other,

Neither knowing how.

Fears fall on cowering ears,

Until the weight becomes too much,

And we turn again to practice.


And so it goes for the remainder of the meeting.

Breathing, calmness, stillness, quiet,

Then we join together,

Voices layer, slowly, faster,

Adding burden to the bars on which our weariness rests.

Comfort is tossed across the table,

Hearts unloaded, piling up within the space between us.

Cancer, pain, depression, shame,

It’s all laid out for viewing,

To which the therapist calms the swells,

With words of meditation.



“Focus on the breath,” he says,

“As it moves between your lips.”

But I focus instead on the single tear,

Slipping down my cheek.


“So much suffering,” number four,

Whispers between our reprises,

The therapist points out simple math,

“Suffering = Pain x Resistance”

None of us had learned this equation,

In all of our education.

He instructs, “Be with the pain,

Accept it in its fullness.”

He’s giving us the tools we need,

To complete the calculation.


Breathe in, Breathe out,

Four strangers sit around me.

In the stillness of my practice,

Joanie’s tank seems louder,

Making salient the bodily function that,

Occupies our attention.


Mind full, Mindful,

Mind full, Mindful,

The session’s hour passes.


The therapist makes a closing remark,

As we gather our belongings,

“This course has morphed into something different,

Than I originally imagined.

It seems that I forgot about,

The lives that drove you here in the first place.”


Group, palliative, family therapy,

The chameleon of Mindfulness courses.

We will gather again a week from now,

In all our states of being.

Hamilton, I Love You. A Pedestrian’s Tale

By Sarina Lalla (c2020). Photo by Kyle Godden (c2019)

Some will dismiss you as Ontario’s armpit

But I think they’re sorely mistaken

For they don’t take the time

To see how you can be breathtaking


They can climb up the escarpment

Past the heritage homes

And take a good look at your skyline

Through the steps of their roams


A mix of old and new will dazzle them

As they take in your view

From the remnants of your steel city

To the high rises of downtown avenue


And behind it all will sparkle the Great Lake

That makes your weather mild

Windy at times, I’ll give you that

But beautiful enough to leave us beguiled


Better yet

It’s your inhabitants that are your biggest asset

Beautiful people I have



And met


People who thank bus drivers

People who help those who slip on ice

People who help the less fortunate

People who are genuinely nice


And on a personal note

The best part of you is my second family

Friends that have made you my home away from home

And that have let me into their lives happily


I am eternally thankful for what you’ve given me

And since I’ve met you I have grown

I’m thankful for taking a leap of faith
Moving away from all I’ve ever known

Hamilton, I love you

And everything you’ve done for me

And I hope I can repay you

As I spend the next 2 years working in your community.

Prime Meridian

By Jodie Hooker (c2020). Photograph by Chuttersnap (@chuttersnap).
I twirl the globe on my night stand.
The bumps of the meridians and the Andes Mountains graze the pads of my fingers.
Spinning, spinning, whirling softly,
I do not notice the strobing of light outside my window.
My fingers become dry and my eyes become blurred from all the turning.
I stop the globe.
I look up.
I did not notice all the days ending.
I was too busy passing time.

They Never Taught Me How to Talk to You

Written by anonymous. Photograph by Sharon Wu.

They didn’t teach me how to talk to you
When I have that scar too
A healthy distance, empathy
Do nothing for me when I also bleed

Those things you share, with no one else
Places I’ve been, pain I’ve felt
An empty hollow deep within
Invisible, he never bruised your skin
At least, I know, where others can see
I’ve been you, trust me

But now you need help and I’m at work
Praying you can’t see the cold sweat beading beneath my shirt
Or notice how I cross my legs
And try to keep my answers vague
GPAs, MMIs, MCATs, alma mater, Kalamazoo
None taught me how to talk to you

Don’t reply to that question, leave that box blank
Avoid their gaze so my lip doesn’t shake
Oh wait, that’s you, that’s your role now
And I have to listen, relive it, stay strong somehow
Ask questions I don’t want to imagine with answers I already know
Pretend it is all new, though I’m mouthing the words

The evidence says I can offer a comforting touch
But Heaven knows how a hand on your thigh will make you jump
and your skin crawl and your stomach knot
Cloud your vision, make you feel both hot and cold
I missed what you said, I was back in that night
My palms are so sweaty, my chest is so tight

My eyes prick with tears as I try not to laugh
I swallow down the sound by driving my nails deep into my calf
How ironic, feeling so tense, when they all called you loose
slut, whore, skank, hoe, the words choke like a noose
As much today if not more than back then

I pick up my pen in an effort to stay my trembling hand
and put it back down again as soon as I do
I’m trying to listen but my eyes dart around the room
Looking for an exit, a friend, a phone, that night painfully clear in my head
But I’m stuck in my chair, like I was in that bed

I’m still scared, I realize
When your voice makes me jump
As I’m jolted from remembering how I wished for a lump
or a cut or a bruise, something to prove I’d said no
To make it all clear, not she said, he said so

But instead I am trapped here, listening to your story
While I wrestle with my own memories I can’t shake
Only to offer “I’m sorry
And count down the seconds until I’m free from here
and can run to the bathroom, lock the door, hug myself on the toilet and succumb to the fear
and the hatred, self-loathing, hopelessness, disgust
Get lost in the fact that I don’t know who to trust

Because I asked for help, and I made myself clear
What else should I have said or done when it all fell on deaf ears

And I long for the days when I could sleep with clear conscience
Because now that place is a cruel trigger – the brink of unconscious

Even before that point, lying in bed is the worst
My mind replays and rewinds all the hurt
and I’m gripped with panicked confusion about what it all means
Does it count? What’s my number? Was he wrong, or is it me?

It might be my fault, I should have been better
Then I might not have this deep wound that still festers
No antibiotic can fix it, this ragged hole
that is left when your body wasn’t yours to control
Tried as I might to have left it behind
Focus on anything else, at least free my mind

But here in my work and my school
What I went through is talked about with statistics, another risk factor to pool
And I look away in shame when peers say that the journals prove it actually isn’t that bad
The survivors aren’t scarred, the numbers are high, besides what were they wearing and how many drinks had they had
There’s no point in arguing, I know that all too well
I know they won’t listen
And besides, I wonder all that in my own personal hell

When I get up the nerve to look at your face
Tune back into your words, “Maybe if my bra hadn’t been lace
I’ve missed most of your story, but please don’t repeat it
I don’t need to hear yours too, I’m there, I could speak it
Sure, the names and the dates may have changed
But the sickness inside that you want help for’s the same
And in spite of all that I’m struck mute

Because since I own that scar too
They never taught me how to talk to you


Comfort Measures

Written by Sabrina Lue Tam (c2017).

From the moment we are born,
We are dying—
But it doesn’t seem to matter
Until someone gives us a reason to doubt
We will wake up tomorrow.

Then we are afraid to fall asleep,
Every blink feels like a kiss of lidocaine
(2%, with fear)
Are we still breathing? (For how long?)

In that moment, you want to remember their faces.
The ones whose names probably
Glitter gold in the adipose tissue cushioning your heart
You want the texture of their smiles etched
On the insides of your eyelids
So even if you don’t wake up
You won’t be alone.

“Don’t let me forget.
Don’t let me forget that until I die
I am still alive,
And I still love you—
Even then, I won’t stop loving you when my heart does.
I won’t stop, ever.”

Their names will be held tight
In the embrace of the crinkles by your eyes
When you laugh.
You keep laughing
So you will not let them go.

It will be hard for them, but
They will remember the sound of your voice, the
Warmth in your touch;
They will remember your name as a feeling of home
Not as a carving in stone
That cradles raindrops in its curves and lines
And reminds them that you may be gone now,
But you were here, and
You are loved.

Please, do not ask
How much time you have left.
Do not ask me to count your days,
To measure the number of kisses your lips still have,
The number of thank-yous that will go unsaid
The litres of forgiveness you need to pour before they
Sour into regret—

If you want to share your
Could have’s and would have’s and should have’s, I
Will carry them as scars, like
Childhood lessons learned with sutures and skinned knees.

No, instead,

We shall make them will be’s and have been’s, and
If you don’t wake up in the morning,
I am here.
You will not be alone.

On Dying

Written by Nikita Arora (c2018). Photograph by Giuliana Guarna (c2019).

A university student takes a picture in front of the fall foliage with a peace sign and a gleeful smile during his weekend hike
Depending on what colour the leaves are,
if they’re on the trees or on the ground
how long they’ve been there
His picture speaks of the dying process
              Of death
Of dead.

Autumn teaches us about death.

Autumn teaches us that death is every horror that we expected
Cold and slicing wind across the face
A sun so distant, it doesn’t feel warm even when it’s unobstructed by clouds
A darkness deep and prolonged despite efforts to counteract it *I’m talking about you, daylight savings*
Leaving everything bare and lifeless
And deafeningly silent

Autumn teaches us that death is beautiful
That death can be celebrated
Spattered with the artist’s strokes of red, gold and orange
An explosion of a thousand hues overlaid on each other
The leaves carelessly twirling down against the backdrop blue of the sky
The sound of a child jumping into a pile of leaves
The bickering of the geese bidding us farewell, until next time
The mischievous swaying dance of naked trees

Autumn teaches us that death is a part of the journey
That the fear and anticipation of death doesn’t change when it comes
It comes at different times for all – always unexpected
And so, even as they lose their photosynthetic green
And they know what is about to happen next
Because years of growth rings have brought them death upon death
Instead of dwelling on grief
The trees stand solemnly by
Meeting death with a sense of familiarity, with open arms
Deciduous not envious of evergreen
Because each chooses it own fate – as is right for each
And dust to dust is ultimately for all.

So maybe if there was one goddamn window in this hospital
We could look out to autumn to teach us
How to welcome death like an old friend
How to see its beauty
How to celebrate it
Even though it is indeed every horror we expected
In the end.


Written by anonymous. Photograph by Giuliana Guarna (c2019).

What is it about a messy house
What is it about skipping the gym for one day
What is it about not talking to him at the time of night you usually talk to him
What is it about missing lunch yesterday
What is it about not showering in the morning
What is it about running out of body wash
What is it about seeing one fruit fly meander out of the garbage can
What is it about missing your pill last night
What is it about one thing going wrong

That unwinds the tangled ball of thread that is your life
That pushes you over the tipping point
You didn’t even know you were at
That nudges you in the direction of hot mess
When you were just putting together a CV that said I’ve got my life together or at least I have high-functioning depression

When I’m at the clinic, I tell women that sleeping too much can mean depression
With the assumption that that’s not me – I sleep the societally acceptable amount of hours
Bouncing between the limits like some 90’s video game you played on your cell phone
But when I wake up at 5 PM
              Pressing snooze the 20th time since 7 AM
My muscles aching, rebelling against the stillness
My stomach growling like a dragon that needs to be fed
My brain exhausted from trying to wake me
The first thought I have is I’m sleeping too much
And of course, I know what that means
And of course, I can’t face it
And of course, I fall back asleep.

Something about order makes me feel like those days are just bad days
That the DSM is a game at which I’m winning
              Even as it tries to catch up – from 3, to 4, to V
Order makes me think I can handle it, this life thing
Order gives me the illusion of control,
              Even though of course, I’m never in control.
Even though of course, I’m never winning.
Even though of course, it isn’t just one bad day.